Academic journal article Current Musicology

Analysis, Performance, and Images of Musical Sound: Surfaces, Cyclical Relationships, and the Musical Work

Academic journal article Current Musicology

Analysis, Performance, and Images of Musical Sound: Surfaces, Cyclical Relationships, and the Musical Work

Article excerpt


   It is not a question of junking these concepts, nor do we have the
   means to do so. Doubtless it is more necessary, from within
   semiology, to transform concepts, to displace them, to turn them
   against their presuppositions, to reinscribe them in other chains,
   and little by little to modify the terrain of our work and thereby
   produce new configurations. (Derrida 1981:24)

Following Derrida, in this paper we hope to reinscribe the familiar musicological concepts of analysis and performance, drawing them into new relationships, in order to turn them against their presuppositions and produce new configurations. Through an exploration of analysis, performance, and images of musical sound, these new configurations highlight surface details and offer an alternative approach to previous analysis and performance paradigms, leading to a reformulation of the concept of the musical "work."

The relationship between analysis and performance has posed challenging questions for musicologists, theorists, and performers, generating some of the most thought-provoking discussions in the literature. The endeavors of analysis and performance are closely related, yet historically they have employed different methods and participated in different traditions. Nicholas Cook writes, "I would like to counterpose not so much the analyst and the performer but rather the 'writing' and the 'performing' musician, or, more precisely, music as writing and music as performance" (1999:250). For the most part, analysts write about notated music, whereas performers play or sing music. While not inherently negative, these differences of activity have contributed to the chasm that often exists between music analysis and performance. For the most part, musical conclusions in analytical articles are based upon score analyses, leaving performers' interpretations entirely out of the discussion. Rarely do analytical articles base their musical conclusions on performance analyses, unless that is the specific intent of the article. (1)

In order to focus our argument we define "analysis" as the methodological activity of analyzing a score as practiced in most Western art music analytical journals published today. Likewise, while the concept of musical performance can encompass improvisation and physical gesture, we take "performance" to mean the Western art music performance tradition, as practiced today, of score interpretation. Although both definitions are admittedly limited, they represent typical approaches and activities within both fields. (2)

Why should the fields of analysis and performance be brought closer together, and how would this benefit musicologists, theorists, and performers? The simple answer is that both analysis and performance are mutually supportive endeavors that broaden our musical understanding in different but related ways. A more profound reason for bringing analysis and performance closer is that doing so can expand our understanding of the musical "work." Although a problematic term and concept, a musical "work" is generally defined within the Western art music tradition as having an identity based upon a score that is used for performance interpretation and having a fixed beginning and ending (see Talbot 2000:169-70). This score-based view of the musical work has exacerbated the gap between analysis and performance by drawing sharp lines between score and interpretation, and we claim that images of musical sound generated through spectrography can provide the tools to bring these fields together. The three main points we highlight are: (1) analysis and performance have had troubled relationships in musicological literature, (2) images of musical sound (spectrographs) can bring novel perspectives to analysis and performance, and (3) these novel perspectives can be used to generate a different, non-score-based conception of the musical work.

We begin with an introduction to current analysis and performance research, after which we proceed to a discussion of images of musical sound, spectrographs, and the musical surface. …

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